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Injury Report: Vikings unsure if Sam Bradford will start vs. Steelers in Week 2

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 09/17/2017 - 8:46am

The Pittsburgh Steelers might be facing Case Keenum instead of Sam Bradford.

The Pittsburgh Steelers may be facing Sam Bradford under center for the Minnesota Vikings, and they might not.

After being on the injury report the majority of the week, Bradford isn’t just listed as ‘Questionable’, but the knee injury will leave him as a game-time decisions for the Vikings.

Vikings believe Sam Bradford, listed as Q for Sunday, will be gametime decision, per source. They plan to work him out pregame, then decide.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 17, 2017

The status of #Vikings QB Sam Bradford (knee) to be decided after a pregame workout, source said. Good news: His ACL & ligaments are intact

— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 17, 2017

Will Bradford be under center? A pre-game workout will dictate whether he will be able to play Sunday at Heinz Field or not, but most are expecting Bradford to be under center when the game officially begins at 1:00 p.m. ET.

If Bradford cannot play in Week 2, it would be Case Keenum getting the start in the home opener for the Steelers.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest on this story, and other reports, leading up to the game.

Know Your Steelers Enemy: Week 2 vs. the Minnesota Vikings

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 09/17/2017 - 8:31am

Get to know more about the Minnesota Vikings, the Steelers Week 2 opponent.

The Steelers host the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at Heinz Field. Or after Monday's impressive win over the Saints, should we say...the high-powered Minnesota Vikings? Get to know them a little better as BTSC previews the Norsemen of the NFC.

*Denotes probable starter

OFFENSE

*No. 8 QB Sam Bradford

The first overall pick in the 2010 draft has seemed to have found a home in the Twin Cities. Against New Orleans, Bradford completed 27 of 32 passes for 346 yards. Three of those passes were for TDs against no interceptions. The 6'4" Oklahoma Sooner doesn’t have a cannon for an arm, but he throws with great accuracy and is an intelligent decision-maker. Even though Bradford is currently hampered by a bum knee, he is expected the play and the Steeler secondary will be tested.

Note: Case Keenum will start as Bradford is officially listed as out.

Other Vikings Quarterbacks to Note:

No. 7 Case Keenum

*No. 33 RB Dalvin Cook

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The rookie from FSU lived up to his billing and debuted nicely against the Saints. Cook is fast. He topped out at nearly 21 mph according to the NFL's Next-Gen speed tracker on Monday. Cook is not a power back, but he is elusive and a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. Cook carried the ball 22 times for 127 yards, including a 33-yarder in the opener.

Other Vikings Running Backs to Note:

No. 25 Latavius Murray, No. 21 Jerrick McKinnon, *No. 30 FB C.J. Ham

*No. 14 WR Stefon Diggs and *No. 19 WR Adam Thielen

The third-year pro from Good Counsel in Olney, Maryland has good size at 6' and impressive speed. Diggs had seven catches for 93 yards in the opener, two for touchdowns.

Meanwhile, the fourth-year player from Minnesota State, Thielen, is the second leading receiver in yards with 157 in the opener. The 6'2" Thielen is a big and sure-handed compliment to Diggs. The Steelers need to be careful with this dynamic duo.

Other Vikings Wide Receivers to Note:

No. 11 WR Laquon Treadwell, No. 17 WR Jarius Wright, No. 13 Stacy Coley, No. 12 Rodney Adams

*No. 82 TE Kyle Rudolph

Rudolph should be one of the more-heralded at his TE position in the NFL. Last week against New Orleans, "Big Country" snagged all three balls that came his way for 26 yards and a TD. Rudolph is always a red zone threat and his presence should be noted at all times.

Other Vikings Tight Ends to Note:

No. 89 David Morgan II, No. 81 Blake Bell

*No. 71 LT Riley Reiff

The revamped offensive line of the Vikings is anchored by Reiff, who came over from the Lions. Reiff grades out with Pro Football Focus as best among a unit that allowed very little pressure of Sam Bradford last week. Reiff will have his hands full as he is set to see plenty of T.J. Watt and James Harrison on Sunday.

Other Vikings Offensive Linemen to Note:

*No. 62 LG Nick Easton, *No. 65 *C Pat Elflein, *No. 61 RG Joe Berger, *No. 72 RT Mike Remmers, No. 78 Jeremiah Sirles

DEFENSE

No. 98 NT Linval Joseph

Joseph received a $50M extension in August for good reason. The team's top run stuffer uses pure brute-force up front. It will be interesting to see Le'Veon Bell going up the middle on Joseph. PFF ranks Joseph as an above average DT.

Other Vikings Defensive Linemen to Note:

*No. 99 LDE Danielle Hunter, *No. 92 DT Tom Johnson, *No. 97 LDE Everson Griffin, No. 96 DE Brian Robison, No. 91 DE Stephen Weatherly, No. 94 DT Jaleel Johnson, No. 93 NT Shamar Stephan

*No. 55 MLB Anthony Barr

Barr is one of the most dynamic players on the Viking defense, but he is banged up with a bum hamstring. Against the Saints, the UCLA LB was all over the field with eight tackles. Despite missing practice Wednesday and Thursday, Barr returned on Friday in limited participation. If he can't go. Emmanuel Lamur will play in his place.

Other Vikings Linebackers to Note:

*No. 42 WLB Ben Gedeon, *No. 54 MLB Eric Kendricks, No. 59 LB Emmanuel Lamur, No. 40 LB Kentrell Brothers, No. 50 Eric Wilson

*No. 29 RCB Xavier Rhodes

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Rhodes is a Pro Bowl corner for a reason. Sure he's tall at 6'2", but he's fast with excellent cover skills. A potential battle with Antonio Brown is a dream matchup, but one-on-one with Martavis Bryant would be intriguing as well. Rhodes is limited by a hip injury, but is still expected to play.

Other Vikings Defensive Backs to Note:

*No. 26 LCB Trae Waynes, *No. 34 SS Andrew Sendejo, *No. 22 FS Harrison Smith, No. 23 CB Terence Newman, No. 20 DB Mackensie Alexander, No. 27 S Jayron Kearse, No. 41 S Anthony Harris

SPECIAL TEAMS

*No. 2 K Kai Forbath

Forbath was three for three on field goals in the opener, but missed an extra point. The Viking kicker has a career FG% of 87.00%. Forbath has bounced around the league since 2010 and won a close battle with Marshall Koehn.

Other Vikings Special Teamers to Note:* No. 4 P Ryan Quigley, *No. 35 PR Marcus Sherels, *No. 21 KR Jerrick McKinnon, *No. 47 LS Kevin McDermott

COACHES

Head Coach Mike Zimmer

From years as the defensive coordinator in Cincinnati, Zimmer knows the Steelers well. Quite well. Zimmer has earned respect among the league due to his reputation of toughness and bluntness. In three-plus years as the head man in Minnesota, Zimmer has a record of 27-22.

Other Vikings Special Teamers to Note:

Offensive Coordinator: Pat Shurmur

Defensive Coordinator: George Edwards

Special Teams Coach: Mike Priefer

The Steelers ‘empty set’ offense, and what it may mean for the Vikings in Week 2

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 09/17/2017 - 8:00am

Taking a look at some statistics from Week 1 and seeing if it’s predictive of what fans can expect in Week 2.

Can the past predict the future? There are plenty of people who will argue different sides of that philosophical discussion but, when the subject is football, sometimes past performances shine a light on what is to come.

Welcome to the ‘Stat Geek’ article.

Before anyone thinks I’m the stat geek, think again. Not that there’s anything wrong with people who love statistics, it’s simply a name I chose for this feature. Nevertheless, BTSC writer, podcast co-host and football fanatic 58Steel loves breaking down film and decided to put those statistics to good use.

In this first article of the ‘Stat Geek,’ he breaks down the Pittsburgh Steelers’ usage of the ‘empty set’ offensive formation in Week 1 against the Cleveland Browns. Then we ask whether this trend will continue in Week 2 vs. the Minnesota Vikings.

Now to the stats:

  • Steelers ran 14 plays from an empty set, including 11 times during the first half.
  • The plays accounted for 12 pass attempts, nine completions for 110 yards, five first downs, 1 TD, 1 sack (-8 yards) and 1 holding penalty.
  • For the plays the Steelers ran without Bell on the field, there were nine plays accounting for nine pass attempts, eight completions for 108 yards and five first downs. Antonio Brown accounted for five of those catches for 99 yards.

So:

  • Plays from empty set: 14 plays, 104 yards, 7.43 yards/play. First down every 2.8 plays. TD every 14 plays
  • Plays from empty WITHOUT BELL: nine plays, 108 yards. 12.0 yards/play. first down every 1.8 plays
  • Remaining 43 plays not run from empty set: 186 yards. 4.33 yards/play. First down every 3.9 plays. TD every 43 plays

When looking at the numbers, you can see the empty set worked. Fans might have hated it, but it worked. Sure, there weren’t as many plays run in the empty set compared to other offensive sets, but the Steelers averaged over 3-yards more per play when they spread the defense out.

I think it’s safe to say Le’Veon Bell won’t be on the sideline for nine plays on Sunday. If he is, I’d be stunned. But I don’t think his presence on the field will hinder their use of the spread/empty sets.

The question now is, was this a one-week thing or is this actually how the Steelers plan to attack almost every defense they face? The Vikings defense certainly is an entirely different beast than the Browns. They’ll likely bring a different approach which could dictate what the Steelers will do offensively. But Ben Roethlisberger spoke at length about how the empty sets won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

So, are the empty sets the new normal in Pittsburgh? What’s your take?

The Vikings’ overhauled offensive line will have their hands full with the Steelers in Week 2

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 09/17/2017 - 8:00am

Leading up to the Steelers vs. Vikings game in Week 2, we sat down with The Daily Norseman to talk about this matchup from the other side of the fence.

Sometimes interconference games in the NFL can be tough to predict. In fact, considering these two teams rarely face one another, it takes fans a lot of study just to get to know the opponent.

Here at BTSC, I was able to reach out to Christopher Gates of The Daily Norseman, SB Nation’s Minnesota Vikings website, to ask him some questions about the upcoming game.

Check out the interview below, and get the lowdown on the Vikings.

The Minnesota Vikings certainly turned some heads on Monday night against the Saints. In your opinion, when looking at the new-look roster for 2017, what is the strength of both the offense and defense this year?

I think the strength of the Vikings' offense this year might just be their receiving corps and the targets they present for Sam Bradford. Players like Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen really aren't household names outside of Minnesota at this point, but they can both get open and they can both do damage after the catch. Tight end Kyle Rudolph is always going to be a red-zone presence and the team has a group of capable pass catchers that will hold down the third receiver spot until Michael Floyd returns from suspension in Week 5. Throw in a group of running backs that can actually catch the ball out of the backfield and there's a lot for opposing defensive coordinators to process.

As far as the defense is concerned, I think the strength is definitely the front four on defense. Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter are as good a pair of pass rushers as there are in the NFL from the end spots, and Linval Joseph has developed into a force in the middle. The team also has decent depth across the defensive line, allowing them to rotate players in and keep guys fresh late in games when they need to get to the quarterback.

Was that really Sam Bradford I saw on Monday night? Are Vikings fans sold on him as the consistent answer at least for this year, or is he just a stopgap solution until Bridgewater is hopefully able to return?

Bradford has always had the ability to get the ball down the field. I know his stats show a lot of short passes and low yards per attempt, but when he's given time to allow plays to develop and go through his progressions, he can get the ball down the field as well as any quarterback in the league with pretty incredible accuracy. The contract situation with Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater is going to be one of the stories that defines this season for the Vikings. Both of those guys, technically, are free agents after this season but, with Bridgewater's contract and the language of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, there's a chance his contract could roll over into next season. While some Vikings fans have chosen sides when it comes to Bridgewater and Bradford, I think most of us just want whoever is lining up behind center in any given week for this team to go out and perform well. Bridgewater is ineligible to come back until after the first six games, and I think the only way you're going to see him replace Bradford this season is if Bradford starts to struggle. If the offensive line can continue performing well, I don't know if you'll see Bradford struggle or not.

The Vikings have a new offensive line. What are expectations for this unit, and how did they handle themselves in Week 1?

It was hard not to be impressed by the way the line looked in Week 1. They have four new starters and one holdover starter from last season (right guard Joe Berger) is playing a different position (he started at center last year). Against a Saints' defensive line that’s admittedly nowhere near the level of what the Steelers are going to be bringing on Sunday, Bradford was hit just twice in 36 drop-backs, and after the tire fire that the Vikings tried to pass off as an offensive line last year, that was nice to see. The Vikings don't need this team to suddenly jump to the level of teams like the Cowboys or anything like that. They just need to reach a level of not being totally awful every week, and the Vikings have enough talent at the skill positions where they'll be able to take advantage of improvement in the level of offensive line play. That's really what we're looking for from the line at this point.

The Steelers possess a plethora of weapons, maybe more than any other team in the NFL. In your opinion, what is the Vikings’ approach to limit the damage done by the likes of Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant and Ben Roethlisberger?

I think Antonio Brown is going to be seeing a lot of Xavier Rhodes on Sunday. Brown is probably the best wide receiver in the game right now, and if Rhodes isn't the NFL's best corner, his name is definitely on the short list. I think that's going to be a fascinating matchup to watch. As far as Bell is concerned, the Vikings need to remain disciplined up front and follow their assignments. Bell is known for his patience, and if the Vikings find themselves out of position he's going to take advantage. The most important thing is going to be getting to Roethlisberger and, when the Vikings get to him, they need to put him on the ground. We know Roethlisberger is a magician when it comes to escaping sacks, and if the Vikings miss he's going to improvise and take advantage. A week after doing a solid job against a very good New Orleans offense, the Vikings are going to get another stiff test with the Steelers.

This is a tough game to predict. Because its an interconference matchup, Id be curious to know how you think this game will unfold at Heinz Field.

As much as I would love to pick the Vikings in this one, going into Heinz Field and taking down a team that went to the AFC Championship Game last season is a pretty tall order. I think this is going to be a close, relatively low-scoring contest, and it's probably going to come down to who gets the ball last. I think a lot of people had this game chalked up as a Minnesota loss when the schedule came out, and even after the performance the team put together on Monday night, I still think that's what's going to happen. I'll take the Steelers by a count of 23-20.

Enter to win a trip to a Steelers home game

Steelers.com News - Sun, 09/17/2017 - 8:00am
Steelers Nation Unite is giving fans a chance to win a VIP trip to the team's Week 5 game at Heinz Field.

Enter to win a trip to a Steelers home game

Steelers.com News - Sun, 09/17/2017 - 8:00am
Steelers Nation Unite is giving fans a chance to win a VIP trip to the team's Week 5 game at Heinz Field.

Tomlin on chemistry, Bud, position switches

Steelers.com News - Sun, 09/17/2017 - 6:00am
Mike Tomlin addressed a variety of issues leading up to the game against the Vikings.

Tomlin on chemistry, Bud, position switches

Steelers.com News - Sun, 09/17/2017 - 6:00am
Mike Tomlin addressed a variety of issues leading up to the game against the Vikings.

Asked and Answered: Game Day Week 2

Steelers.com News - Sun, 09/17/2017 - 5:00am
Another installment of Bob Labriola answering your questions about the Steelers and the NFL.

Asked and Answered: Game Day Week 2

Steelers.com News - Sun, 09/17/2017 - 5:00am
Another installment of Bob Labriola answering your questions about the Steelers and the NFL.

It’s only Week 2, but defense has broken out across the NFL

post-gazette.com - Steelers/NFL - Sun, 09/17/2017 - 5:00am

It has been 40 years since the National Football League enacted a couple of rules changes that altered the face of the game and brought offenses to life.

Gene Collier: Rex Johnston stands alone in Steelers and Pirates history

post-gazette.com - Steelers/NFL - Sun, 09/17/2017 - 5:00am

One of these days, that’s when you’ll do that thing you’ve been putting off for years, one of these days, like reading “War and Peace,” painting the back porch, getting the piano tuned and teaching the dog to play ragtime.

Show your BTSC pride with our brand new GAMEDAY t-shirt

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 09/17/2017 - 4:30am

Show your pride in BTSC with our latest GAMEDAY t-shirt!!

There are a ton of Pittsburgh Steelers websites out there. I’m not dumb enough to think BTSC is the only one with quality content, but here you are...reading this website and this article.

The one thing which separates BTSC from the others is the community. A proud group of individuals who check this website numerous times per day and serve as the oxygen which keeps the site running at such a high rate.

I’m proud to call BTSC my site, and I know there are readers who call BTSC their site too. With that said, I wanted to produce a T-shirt for the BTSC diehards—the readers and commenters who make this site what it is.

Introducing the BTSC Gameday T-shirt:

This T-shirt wasn’t designed to honor a player, but in recognition of you, the reader, who follows the Steelers closer than any other fan. You’re the fan who knows the 90-man roster better than most know the 53-man roster.

If you’re like me—and I’ve already ordered mine—you’ll want one of these T-shirts to complement your Pittsburgh Steelers wardrobe. Ordering is a breeze. Go to THIS LINK, follow the easy-pay steps and get yours today!

You might not know we’ve got an entire BTSC Apparel Store with a ton of T-shirts honoring both current and former players. Check it out HERE.

Random thoughts from a Black-and-Gold mind: Run-around edition

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 09/16/2017 - 2:52pm

More musings from the mind of BTSC's Black-and-gold maniac

The Steelers won their 2017 opener on Sunday, but Steelers Nation is less than satisfied. All of this discourse about a win has my Black-and-gold mind swirling in crazy directions and I'm passing the ravings onto you.

But first let's review the repulsion that I reaped upon you last week. So for those who I offended last week, I open up a suitcase of sorries for you to rummage through to and for the following...

  • Siding with Stephen A. Smith on anything
  • Painting the picture of anybody smuggling heroine through a Bangkok airport with it duct-taped to their thigh. A balloon in the buckeye is more standard these days for drug mules.
  • Alleging that Pauline Walnuts did the most whackings on The Sopranos. If I'm not mistaken, Tony Soprano and Silvio Dante had a higher killing quota.
  • Failing to mention the spectacular goaltending of Goldberg in The Mighty Ducks.
  • Lying about being cool in 1978.
  • Scoop Gillespie
  • For only mentioning Brian Setzer and omitting the Stray Cats Slim Jim Phantom and Lee Rocker

And now, welcome to this week's Random thoughts from a Black-and-gold mind:

  • ESPN has ranked the Steelers No. 1 in their power rankings for Week 2. That's equal to bring named Most likely to succeed in your high school yearbook. But sometimes those superlatives are off a tad. Tom Cruise was listed in his annual as Least likely to succeed. I bet those student editors received wedgies galore. But I digress. The narrow win over the Browns doesn't quell my confidence that Pittsburgh will go very far in 2017, but top of the heap? I'm as surprised as Oprah was when that nut-job leapt on her couch in 2003.
  • Does Adam Schefter care if he's right or wrong...or merely that he's first to report something. To be fair Schefter covered himself using the words "the Steelers fear Stephon Tuitt is lost for the season", but that kind of info set off panic to an already nervous fan base. It's obvious that the team feared that, but it came across that No. 91 was lost for the season. Not everything needs to be posted.
  • Poor Steven Johnson. Does Kevin Colbert call up Mike Tomlin and say, "Hey Mike, it's me Kev. I'm bored...let's screw with Steve Johnson"? On 9/2, the Steelers cut the former Bronco. On 9/4, the team resigned him and released him five days later, only to resign him again in three more days on 9/12. You know he's not going to stick and stay from here-on-out. If I were Johnson, I'd just get a sleeping bag and set up shop at the team facility. He might set a record for being caught and released in a month. Note to the Steelers...this isn't the Bassmasters Classic.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
  • When Steve Miller wrote "Take the Money and Run" back in 1976, he for sure did not look into a crystal ball and see Antonio Brown after he signed his mammoth contract extension in 2017. Sure AB took the money, but his only running is after the catch. He's not going to duplicate 11 grabs and 182 yards every week, but if he did...he'd amass 176 catches and 2,912 yards.
  • Even if No. 84 reached those ridiculous numbers, the NFL still probably wouldn't award him as the league's MVP. A defensive tackle (Alan Page in 1971), a placekicker (Mark Mosley in 1982) and a linebacker (Lawrence Taylor in 1986) have all won the award. But never a receiver. Jerry Rice?...Nope. Randy Moss?...Never. Marvin Harrison...Negative. If you count the Oscars, Cuba Gooding Jr. (1996) has won more MVPs at WR than those guys combined.
  • Brown and the Vikings Adam Thielen (157 yards) are number one and two respectively among the league's wide receivers after one week.
  • Four of the Top 18 players taken in the NFL draft (and three of the Top 10) will be in action on Sunday in Pittsburgh. Minnesota QB Sam Bradford (No. 1 to St. Louis), CB Joe Haden (No. 7 to Cleveland), DL Tyson Alualu (No. 10 to Jacksonville) and C Maurkice Pouncey (No. 18 to Pittsburgh) will compete. The Vikings did not have a pick in the first 32 that year after trading out of the first round.
  • It is my opinion that Le'Veon Bell will be fine going forward. He looks like the rust was almost completely shaken off in the fourth quarter of the opener against Cleveland. But will Bell be used to his fullest potential? The Steelers plan on using more four receiver sets and that may be more time without No. 26 on the field. I still don't think that all has been forgotten and a part of me thinks that Bell was being punished. Bell is saying all the right things about being a team player right now, but you can bet $17M that the running back will be rapping a different tune in the off season.
  • There are a few things that you can count on when the subject is Mike Tomlin. He loves cliches. He doesn't believe in tucking his emotions or his crucifix in his shirt and he's yet to have a losing season. But count on this, he will get more than annoyed if he's asked about Le'Veon Bell missing training camp again. It was quite a scene that left me feeling conflicted. It's like when a female doctor asked my 16-year old self to turn my head and cough back in 1988. I didn't know if I should giggle or feel really uncomfortable. I chose the latter.
Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
  • Dont get your Terrible Towels in a bunch over Sunday's close score, the Steelers will be fine. In fact, I think offensive numbers around the league will go up considerably from Week One to Week Two. The preseason has changed so much that most teams are not playing there stars in the preseason and that hurts cohesiveness and continuity once the regular season starts. It's a double-edged sword though, a star could be lost for the year. Week one equates to a fifth preseason game and the Steelers could explode on Sunday.
  • By the way, the Browns aren't as bad as you think.

And finally...

  • I wonder what Verron Haynes is doing these days.

Until next week, whether last week has you nervous or not...think about John Popper's brilliant lyrics from The Blues Traveler's 1995 hit "Run-around".

Tra la la la la bombardier this is the pilot speaking

And I've got some news for you

It seems my ship still stands no matter what you drop

And there ain't a whole lot that you can do

Oh sure the banner may be torn and the wind's gotten colder

Perhaps I've grown a little cynical

But I know no matter what the waitress brings

I shall drink it and always be full

Yeah, I will drink it and always be full

Take that for what it's worth and Go Steelers.

How to watch/listen to the Steelers vs. Vikings

Steelers.com News - Sat, 09/16/2017 - 2:00pm
Complete coverage of the Steelers' Week 2 game vs. the Minnesota Vikings.

#HereWeGo: Steelers-Vikings Week 2

Steelers.com Videos - Sat, 09/16/2017 - 11:50am
The Steelers face the Vikings at Heinz Field for their Week 2 matchup.

#HereWeGo: Steelers-Vikings Week 2

Steelers.com Videos - Sat, 09/16/2017 - 11:50am
The Steelers face the Vikings at Heinz Field for their Week 2 matchup.

The Internal Steelers Struggle: Week 2 vs. the Vikings

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 09/16/2017 - 11:45am

What do you get when you combine a rational Steelers fan, a total homer, and a guy who pretty much exists for comic relief? You get me, and my weekly internal battle. This week we fight about the Browns, William Gay’s questionable hit and predictions for Week 2.

We all talk to ourselves from time to time. Most of don’t bother creating transcripts of the conversation, though. Below is this week’s conversation between Me (my rational side), Myself (the eternal homer in me) and I (almost as bright as a 2-watt bulb and half as useful).

Thoughts on Week One at Cleveland?

Myself: [Sits quietly, stewing]

Me: It wasn’t pretty, but come on. It was Week 1. They’re never pretty, and the Steelers were without their No. 1 runner the entire preseason. It was going to take time to get everyone on the same page, especially Le’Veon Bell.

I: [In a serious, practiced tone] I thought they played football.

Me: [Waits for I to finish the sentence with an adverb, but none comes] That’s a very...accurate observation. [Pats I on the back] Nice going, little buddy.

Myself: [Approaches boiling]

Me: [Trying to fill the silence] Umm...I think Antonio Brown had a fine day. He’s on pace for almost 180 catches and more than 2,900 yards. Pretty absurd, but that’s what the math says right now, at least. Never gonna happen, but it’s fun to think about. [Looks at Myself] Dude, say something. You haven’t been quiet this long since we took that roller-hockey ball to the cajones in college — and that was about 17 years ago.

Myself: [Glares at Me and moves his lips, but no sound comes out]

Me: ...Alright, then. Let’s seeeeeeee...Jesse James had himself a fi-

Myself: [Doing a fine impression of Vesuvius] SON OF A &!*@#!!

Me: [To I] Getcha popcorn ready, man. This is about to get good.

I: Ooooooh, is he gonna do magic??

Me: Well, I’m pretty sure he’s about to pull something crazy out of some place unexpected. So, more or less...yeah, he is.

I: Goodie! I love magic!

Me: [Pats I’s head] Well then I hope you enjoy it. I’m going to go duck behind the sofa and watch safely from there.

I: You’ll miss the show!

Me: That’s the plan.

Myself: [Stands abruptly from his seat, gnashes his teeth and rends his garments into tiny shreds] I’M MAD! I’M STEAMED! I’M LIVID! I’M—

Me: Nearly naked.

Myself: [Looks down] I’M...NEARLY NAKED!

Me: Let it out, man. Let it out.

Myself: Ben Roethlisberger! Freakin’ BEN ROETHLISBERGER! He’s supposed to be ELITE! ANDY DALTON IS BETTER THAN BEN ROETHLISBERGER!

Me: Andy Dalton threw four interceptions Sunday. To a terrible secondary. Ben threw one, and it was a tipped ball.

Myself: In TRIPLE COVERAGE! What kind of idiot even does that?!

Me: [Calmly] He completed one into triple coverage late in the fourth to seal the game.

Myself: You just proved my point! It was the Cleveland Browns! That game should have been over the moment the schedule was released!

Me: They have a ton of young talent, man. They’ll win four to six games this year. Mark my words. Heck, they could easily beat the Ravens and Bengals right now.

Myself: But it was THE BROWNS.

Me: Still, I—

Myself: THE. BROWNS.

Me: I don’t th—

Myself: [Whispers] The Browwwwwwwns.

Me: [Thinks for a minute] I’m not talking you down off this one, am I?

Myself: [Puts his hands on his hips and stares at Me while taking long, deep breaths]

I: Do a trick already!

Myself: [Looks confusedly at I, then back at Me, then looks like he’s about to say something]

Me: Long, stupid story.

Myself: We’re not gonna win a single game this season. It’s going to be horrible. I mean...0-16...nothing to celebrate or look forward to...out of the playoffs by week six...It’s going to be pure hell. No — WORSE! I’ll find out...[begins sobbing]...what it feels like to live in Cleveland! [Breaks down, bawling]

I: Worst. Magic show. EVER. I want my money back!

Was William Gay’s hit dirty?

Me: [Watches Myself curl into the fetal position] Umm...Illegal? Yes. Dirty? No. The receiver kind of ducked into it. It looked terrible, and it was definitely against the rules. He’ll probably get fined for it, and I think I’m okay with that.

Myself: [Jumps quickly to his feet] What?! You think he deserves a fine??! That hit was toooooootally clean! Just watch, now the league has pissed off the Steelers. We’re gonna run the table from here! Nineteen and oh!

Me: Sixteen-point-seven seconds ago you said we weren’t winning a single game this season.

Myself: [Speaks patronizingly] That was so 20 seconds ago, my friend. [Whispers] Stop living in the paaaaaaaast.

Me: Wow. Your “homer” is showing.

Myself: [Opens filing cabinet, pulls out a sheet and looks at it, then shows it to Me] That’s what the job description says, Bro.

Me: Then you deserve a promotion and a raise.

Myself: [Finding new clothes] So, what about the officials apparently watching the replay, then throwing the flag? I suppose you have some rationalization for that?

Me: No, I’m pretty miffed about that. But the last time I jumped on the hyperbole train, you threatened me with violence.

Myself: “Miffed”? Dude, are you in second grade?

Me: I’m not sure we knew the definition of “miffed” when we were seven, “dude”.

Myself: Your smack-talk is weaker than Tom Brady’s 2017 completion percentage.

Me: If we weren’t literally two parts of the same person, I don’t think I’d like you much.

Myself: [Scoffs] Get in line, Bro.

Predictions for Week 2’s home opener against the Vikings?

Myself: Sam Bradford spends the whole day tasting grass.

Me: You like our pass rush?

Myself: Even more than I like the Vikings’ terrible offensive line.

Me: So, pick a final score.

Myself: Hmmm... [Mumbles to self] Sixty minutes...two sacks per drive...Bell will score 50 by himself...

Me: Wait wait wait...two sacks per drive?!

Myself: Shut up, I’m thinking.

Me: [Quietly] That’s a first.

Myself: Watch your mouth. I’ll slap you bald-headed.

Me: Shut up and make a guess, Sir-Derps-Alot.

Myself: Is that the only insult you can think of?

Me: Which one?

Myself: Derp.

Me: What?

Myself: DERP.

Me: Huh?

Myself: [Angrily] DERP!

Me: [Chuckles] God bless you.

Myself: [Glares]

Me: Got a score yet?

Myself: Fine. Seventy-seven to three. We give up a garbage-time field goal late.

Me: Not a chance it’s even close to that, but alrighty then. What about you, I?

I: It’ll be a close, defensive game. I predict....one to nothing.

Myself: [To Me] Does it surprise you, at this point, that he’d pick the one score that’s impossible in football?

Me: Yeah, because 77 is totally attainable.

Myself: Okay, Smart Alec. What about you?

Me: I’d say 27 to 17.

Myself: [Seriously] Have you ever considered a career in “being wrong”?

Me: They’d never hire me with you available.

I: [Taps Me on the shoulder and impatiently whispers] Is it time for the magic show yet?

Steelers vs. Vikings Week 2: The 5 most important storylines heading into Steelers vs. Vikings

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 09/16/2017 - 10:35am

We highlight the most intriguing aspects of Pittsburgh’s upcoming contest against Minnesota.

The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Cleveland Browns last Sunday, but did so by an uncomfortably slim margin. For the Steelers, the 2016 AFC runner-up and 2017 Super Bowl contender, a substantial number of atypical happenings had to occur enabling them to claim this 21-18 victory. Le’Veon Bell, who averaged more than 150 all-purpose yards per game in 2016, had the least-productive game of his professional career. Pittsburgh’s offensive line, one of the best units in the NFL, had to struggle to create any holes against a Browns front that surrendered nearly 2,300 rushing yards to opposing runners last season. The Steelers’ receiving corps, which stands up against any unit in the NFL, had to stand back and let its star Antonio Brown do all of the heavy lifting.

Of course, given the closeness of Sunday’s game, a multitude of similarly unusual events had to happen to prevent the Steelers from losing. T.J. Watt had to channel his inner J.J. in his first professional contest. Brown had to catch a 38-yard prayer pass over the top of three defensive backs to seal Pittsburgh’s victory. The Steelers had to score a touchdown on a blocked punt. To contextualize the sheer rareness of the latter event, consider that there were more than 2,300 punts in the NFL last season. Despite this voluminous total, NFL special teams units blocked only seven punts, which translates to 0.3% success rate.

Nevertheless, a victory stemming from a game rife with anomalies is still a victory, and the Steelers are 1-0 heading into their Week 2 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings, a team that destroyed the New Orleans Saints in Week 1. Here are five storylines that I’ll be watching:

The secondary vs Sam Bradford

Bradford had his magnum opus against the Saints on Monday night, completing 27 passes on 32 attempts for 364 yards and three touchdowns. He did this in large part because Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph are among the league’s most underrated offensive trios. However, it should be noted that Bradford was sacked only once on Monday, indicating that Minnesota’s offensive line upgrades already are paying dividends.

Granted that the New Orleans Saints have perhaps the league’s worst pass defense, and their lack of effective pass rushers (aside from Cameron Jordan) only amplifies this unit’s ineptitude. Pittsburgh isn’t devoid of issues in its secondary, but few would argue that the Saints are better than the Steelers when it comes to stopping quarterbacks.

The Steelers have customarily played a very specific brand of football over the past two seasons, one that relies on limiting big plays by surrendering short throws. But this happens to be a style very conducive to Bradford’s skillset. Bradford, who set the NFL’s single-season completion percentage record in 2016, is adept at delivering short, pinpoint passes and keeping the chains moving. He also doesn’t throw many interceptions (he had just five a year ago).

But Bradford was sacked 37 times last season, which was the fourth-highest total in the NFL. The Vikings’ line isn’t a top-flight unit by any measure, but it doesn’t help that Bradford would stand and sink in a pool of lava until he found an open receiver. I would look for Keith Butler to implement a somewhat blitz-heavy scheme against Minnesota in order to impede Bradford’s rhythm.

Is there no end to Antonio Brown’s mastery?

Minnesota’s secondary, meanwhile, sits firmly at the vanguard of the NFL. Xavier Rhodes could very well be the best cornerback Brown faces this entire season, and Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo form one of the league’s best safety tandems. Brown is certainly capable of dominating Rhodes and the Vikings, but it is unreasonable to expect another 11-catch, 182-yard outing. If Pittsburgh’s offense plays like it did against Cleveland, though, Brown may need to.

Le’Veon Bell and the offensive line

In general, Pittsburgh’s offensive line was characteristically solid in pass protection against Cleveland, but struggled to open any running lanes for Bell. A similar performance will not suffice against Minnesota’s front seven, which features a plethora of star-caliber players, including Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Anthony Barr and Danielle Hunter.

New Orleans generated only 60 yards on 21 rushing attempts on Monday. Last season, though, the Vikings ranked 20th in the league in run defense with virtually the same front seven. This indicates Bell and his linemen could bounce back in a big way against Minnesota.

Addressing the penalties

Mike Tomlin spoke at length about the multitude of infractions that the Steelers committed in their victory over Cleveland during his press conference earlier this week. He was particularly irked by Pittsburgh’s offensive penalties, including a number of drive-killing holding calls. A larger number of penalties in Week 1 seems customary, and it’s understandable that players still have to shake off some preseason rust.

But Minnesota is a good team. Committing 13 penalties against such a formidable unit isn’t likely to translate to success.

Containing Minnesota’s rushing attack

Dalvin Cook breathed some much-needed life into Minnesota’s rushing attack, gaining 127 yards on 22 carries against the Saints. This bodes well for the Vikings’ passing offense, as a legitimate running threat like Cook should enhance their play-action capabilities (which the Vikings love, by the way, as they used play-action on 19 percent of their offensive plays last season—the 13th highest percentage in the NFL). The Steelers did well to contain Cleveland’s running game in Week 1, so if they can do the same against Cook and the Vikings, it should at least keep Minnesota one-dimensional.

Shockingly, rookie T.J. Watt avoids fine for flagged hit on DeShone Kizer

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 09/16/2017 - 9:35am

News broke Friday of several players who were fined by the NFL for illegal hits, but suprisingly, T.J. Watt wasn’t one of those.

The NFL league office doesn’t announce when players are fined for specific actions on, or off, the field, but players often tell reporters if they were docked some pay for transactions which took place.

For the Pittsburgh Steelers, several players received letters from the NFL stating their game checks will be a little less this week due to flagged hits during the Week 1 game against the Cleveland Browns.

Ryan Shazier was the first to announce his $25,000 dollar fine due to his late hit on rookie DeShone Kizer, but he wasn’t alone.

Cornerback William Gay was also fined the same amount as Shazier for his hit on a defenseless receiver, and the same can be said for the hit J.J. Wilcox delivered which actually knocked him out of the game with a concussion.

All of the above hits were flagged by officials, but there was another unsportsmanlike call which was not penalized by the league office, and that was the call on linebacker T.J. Watt.

Per Mark Kaboly of DK Pittsburgh Sports:

Watt wasn’t fined for the unnecessary roughness penalty suggesting that the league didn’t feel that it was the correct call on the field.

Replays showed that Watt hit teammate Anthony Chickillo and not Kizer. Chickillo was awarded the sack, but Watt was penalized.

The reason this news is shocking is the NFL doesn’t like to admit it is wrong, and by not fining Watt, they are essentially stating the call on the field was incorrect.

So, to recap, Gay, Shazier and Wilcox all were fined roughly $25,000 ($24,309 to be exact), while Watt escapes the financial hit of the NFL league office in his regular season debut. I’m sure if Watt plays long enough, this won’t be the first, or last, time he hears from the NFL regarding a hit on the field.

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